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The Hobbit House: Destiny and a Dream Led Allan and Janey Willoughby to Their English Cottage

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By Gay Lyons | Photography by Ben Finch – Fincho Photo

In the five years between the time Allan and Janey Willoughby first saw their home in 2013 and purchased it in 2018, the couple found themselves continually drawn to the two-story 2280 square foot English-style cottage in Bearden.

After connecting on and talking on the phone for several weeks, the couple met at Panera Bread in Bearden for what they described as “a super safe afternoon coffee date.” At the conclusion of their first date, Janey showed Allan the home she had seen and admired. Over the next five years, when they drove around neighborhoods, they say they always paused at this home.

Allan grew up in North Yorkshire, “surrounded by beautiful cottages.” Janey had always loved English things: “I love English dogs, English antiques, English cottages,” she said. “And then I finally married an Englishman!”

The couple, who were married in 2016, was so determined to live in an English cottage, they
purchased a home in Dunbarton Oaks and began converting it into a cottage. And then Allan had a dream: “In the dream, I was at Holy Land Market with friends from Naples, Florida, where I lived for 30 years,” he recalled. “They asked me, ‘How can you live in Knoxville?’ I pointed to the gable of a house across the street and said ‘I’m going to live there.’ The next morning I told Janey about the dream.”

Later that day they took Cooper, their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, for a walk that led them past the home of their dreams, where they saw a For Sale sign.

“We met a realtor 30 minutes later and put an offer in the next day,” said Allan.

They’ve spent the last four years turning the home into the charming cottage they’d been imagining. “Every wall and every ceiling was dark gray,” said Janey.

“The stones and bricks were dark gray. We wanted to lighten it up.” They renovated the kitchen, which previously featured dark wood and dark shutters. They removed dark ceiling beams from the porch, which became a curtained patio. Allan, who enjoys working with wood and has access to a neighbor’s wood shop, used the salvaged wood to make a pergola, an arbor, and a window seat that conceals Cooper’s crate.

They also flipped the orientation of the house. The original front entrance is now the back entrance facing the new front door. To avoid confusing guests, they built a path and an arbor with a gate leading to the new front entrance. “We tell guests to come to the side where the arbor is,” said Allan.

The first owner described the house as a “hobbit house.” Allan says it’s “very quirky.”

The size of the rooms meant some sacrifice. “I had to give up some large beautiful pieces of furniture,” said Janey. “But I enjoyed them for many years.”

“The dining room was a real challenge,” she continued. “This space has the front door and the back door. It’s the foyer and the dining room.” She replaced a “massive” dining table with a smaller onewhich almost completely fills the space. The high ceilings keep the area from
feeling closed in.

The kitchen, dining room/foyer, master bedroom and bath and the critter room–the couple’s name for the sitting area on the other side of a large fireplace from the dining room–are on the first floor. Upstairs are a guest bedroom, Allan’s office and Cooper’s room, which is where you’ll find the window seat/dog crate concealer Allan built.

The home is surrounded on all sides by gardens, bringing the outdoors in through large windows and making the large covered patio a popular place.

“We live on the patio,” said Janey. Allan made the porch swing and coffee table at one end of the space. Long curtains along the sides give the patio a cozy feel and add protection from the sun.

Janey and Allan do all the gardening themselves. “A lot of the plants came from friends  and neighbors,” said Janey. “It’s fun to walk through and see those. I thought it would be a challenge having such a small lot, but it’s really ideal. I can manage it.”

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